UPDATED: 'Top Gear': The Stig Revealed, Hart Hanson Shocked (and Leno's on the Way)
No doubt echoing the gasps on the other side of the pond (from months ago, since this aired in the UK last year), American fans of Britain's automobile extravaganza "Top Gear" -- or at least two of them -- were rocked to suddenly see revealed the face of the show's perpetually helmeted "tame racing driver," The Stig.
(Photo at left, host Jeremy Clarkson during a typical "Top Gear" stunt mishap.)
The event that rocked the "Top Gear" world happened during the show's 13th-season premiere, which aired in the U.S. on Monday, Jan. 25, on BBC America.
"Bones" executive producer Hart Hanson, a good friend of Hot Cuppa TV and a fellow "Top Gear" fan, flashed the news across Twitter, tweeting, "The Stig is revealed. Best moment in TV ever!" And he also posted this photo on Twitpic.
Asked for a reaction, Hanson emailed:
I screamed at the TV, paused, and took the twitpic that I put up.
May I tell you that I had guessed his identity? I'm not sure I'll say that much. Sounds too much like, "Oh I knew it all along."
"The Stig" was one of the great TV ideas of all time. A brilliant "prop", a brilliant "character", what's with the name? And he actually performed like a superhuman.
May I also say that there was just enough sauce and irony at the end of the show to suggest they may have been fooling us? But I don't think so. I think that's the guy.
According to host Jeremy Clarkson, the face above belongs to German Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher.
Here's a clip of the big moment.
There was a strong reaction in the British press, who suspected that this may have been a publicity stunt, and that Schumacher may not actually be The Stig. It is a little hard to believe that a top driver would take the time, week after week, to methodically coach celebrities to take the show's famous lap in the reasonably-priced car.
Although The Stig -- presumably Schumacher, at least in this instance -- drove a blistering lap on the "Top Gear" test track in a Ferrari FXX in the season opener, at the end of the show, with helmet firmly back on, he did a miserable lap in the reasonably priced sedan. As Hanson mentioned, Clarkson left just enough wiggle room to suggest that the true identity of The Stig has yet to be exposed.
NBC tried hard to produce an American version of "Top Gear" with host Adam Carolla, but the concept fell apart during an executive shuffle at the network (shocking, I know). But from what I heard, the pilot began with The American Stig descending from an aircraft to land in the driver's seat, which sounds pretty darn cool.
At the recent Television Critics Association Press Tour, Clarkson appeared by satellite, and, in answer to a question about NBC's "Top Gear," said, "I came over and watched the pilot of that and had a chat with the three guys that were presenting it and explained how we did things here. I thought it was pretty good, actually. I don't think it was a disaster at all. I thought it was excellent, in fact.
"But then men in suits had a meeting, and then it never happened. I don't really know why. Men in suits spoil a lot of things."
Of course, Jay Leno, the soon-to-be former host of NBC's "The Jay Leno Show," and, as of March 1, the returning host of NBC's "The Tonight Show," is a huge auto enthusiast and a big "Top Gear" fan. He even instituted a version of the test lap in his self-titled primetime show, using an electric car.
We don't know yet whether the electric-car lap will make it into Leno's reconstituted version of "The Tonight Show," but no matter what happens, Leno will be behind the wheel, on a test track
On Monday, March 8, Leno takes the wheel of the reasonably priced car and tries his luck with the test track's torturous twists and turns, including the infamous Gambon turn, so called because it was the near-undoing of actor Michael Gambon.
Other celebrities attempting the drive in the new episodes are Olympic gold-medal-winning sprinter Usain Bolt, occasional "Bones" guest star Stephen Fry, actress Sienna Miller and AC/DC singer Brian Johnson.
Time will tell whether it was Michael Schumacher who coached them ... or not
Then, on Monday, March 15, the 14th-season premiere of "Top Gear" premieres airs right on the heels of season 13.